DRIVE!: Out of drag

Aerodynamic cars are sexy and fuel efficient — as Detroit has long known


CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

My stylishly fabulous friend from Paris once said, “These are the most uncomfortable shoes ever, but they are Prada.” My partner and I, on the other hand, have become patrons of Cole Haan, purveyor of kicks that are well-made and beautiful but as comfortable as sneakers. With or without a label, style and functionality can go together — especially with automobiles.

Chrysler built a wind tunnel by 1930 and enlisted the help of Orville Wright to explore shapes that would slip through the air more easily. They discovered cars of the time would have gone through the air more easily driving backwards. The result of their work was the Airflow, from 1934 to 1937 an art deco masterpiece that employed streamlining and elegant curves not fully appreciated until the Ford Taurus debuted in the mid-‘80s.

Given the abysmal sales of the Airflow, American automakers wanted no part of engineered styling, choosing instead to splash on chrome and fins. However Germany learned. The VW Beetle and Porsche 356 were influenced by the Airflow’s underlying engineering, and the Audi 5000 and Mercedes from the late ‘70s and ‘80s relied heavily on wind tunnel testing, giving them a timeless style that still doesn’t look dated. Recently, the quest for better gas mileage and battery range pushed aerodynamics forward.

Bugatti’s million-dollar Veyron supercar is one gorgeous hunk of carbon fiber and stays grounded at 268mph with the help of a rear spoiler that raises and pivots automatically. Active aero should be expected on a car of this pedigree, but it is also becoming commonplace on fuel sippers from America, Japan and Korea.

AIR APPARENT  |  Engineered cars allowing wind to move in a path or least resistance have been hallmarks of Mercedes-Benz, above, for decades, and make the million-dollar Bugatti Veyron, top, road candy for the eye.

AIR APPARENT | Engineered cars allowing wind to move in a path or least resistance have been hallmarks of Mercedes-Benz, above, for decades, and make the million-dollar Bugatti Veyron, top, road candy for the eye.

Designers focus on how the car greets new air, where the air flows around and under the chassis and the amount of turbulence-causing drag occurring as wind soars over the rear of the vehicle. A sleek front, smooth undersides, streamlined mirrors and clean break at the tail optimize efficiency. That’s why you are now seeing flat edging at the rear of vehicles, smaller spoilers, fluid mirrors and very tall decklids. The look is most extreme on the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius.

Cars do not need as much grille cooling the engine at higher speeds. To help cars slip through the air, and get the 40 miles of electricity-only driving some promise, automatic shutters close and divert air around the vehicle. They are included on the Kia Optima Hybrid, Ford Focus SFE, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Chevy Cruze Eco, Volt and Malibu Eco. It works: Cruze Eco achieves 44-MPG in highway driving without a hybrid system; the “lightly electrified” 2013 Malibu Eco will achieve 38-MPG. It’s safe to say no cars since the Airflow were fussed over so thoroughly to both look good and go smoothly through the air.

You can easily see the attention to aero on a sedan like the Camry, but the Camaro ZL-1 is special. GM’s Tom Peters and his team went overboard to make sure the hood vents increased downforce, but were also sculpted out of carbon fiber. Ground affects and a subtle rear spoiler were engineered for performance, but styled to be beautiful, like a linebacker who stays tan and smooth with sharp attire.

Any aerodynamicist worth their smoke wand can make cars slippery. Real talent comes from designers who can also make them beautiful. Cars of all types and prices prove designers can pen shapes that are sexy out of drag.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Black Tie Dinner sells out

Individual tickets may still be available from beneficiaries

Last year’s Black Tie Dinner chairs Nan Faith Arnold and Ron Guillard

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

All tables for the 30th Black Tie Dinner — scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 12 — have been sold, Black Tie officials announced this week.

A wait list has started should any tables become available, and some tickets may still be available through individuals and beneficiary organizations that have paid for tables but not sold all of the seats.

“We are really thrilled to be more than two months out and already at capacity,” Black Tie Dinner Co-Chair Nan Arnold said this week. “It appears that all of the sponsors, supporters and volunteers — and the [members of the ] board of directors — are more excited than ever. We have an incredible line-up for the evening.”

Stand-up comedian and actress Caroline Rhea will be the emcee for the evening. Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin is the keynote speaker, and Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson will accept the Media Award.

Eric Alva, a gay man who was the first American soldier to be injured in Iraq, will receive the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award. Local activists Chet Flake and his partner, the late Bud Knight, will receive the Ray Kuchling Humanitarian Award.

This year, 18 local organizations and the Human Rights Campaign will benefit from the dinner. Each local beneficiary must have a minimum of five affiliated tables, sell at least 25 raffle tickets and provide at least 50 volunteer hours.

The raffle is for a 2012 Mercedes Benz C300 Sport Coupe.

Since it was founded in 1982, Black Tie Dinner has grown into the largest annual seated dinner in the Southwest and is the largest LGBT fundraiser in the United States.

Black Tie Dinner takes place at the Sheraton Hotel in Downtown Dallas on Nov. 12. Tickets are $300 per seat. Anyone interested in individual tickets should contact Mitzi Lemons at mlemons@blacktie.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Steven Weir (and Legacy Counseling) make the One Man Dallas cut as a semi-finalist

I just got a call from Melissa Grove, executive director of Legacy Counseling Center/Legacy Founders Cottage, letting me know that Legacy’s board chair, Steven Weir, has been chosen as one of 20 semi-finalists in the One Man Dallas competition, giving him the chance to win $5,000 to share with Legacy.

“We are the only AIDS organization and the gayest organization” to be chosen by a One Man Dallas semi-finalist, Grove said.

One Man Dallas, according to its website, is “a fun, social, and professional event that identifies the one man in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex area who represents the best of Dallas from the perspectives of community involvement, personality, intelligence and fitness. One Man Dallas not only puts the spotlight on 20 guys doing great work in the community, but highlights 20 great community organizations.”

Each finalist is profiled on the website, and you can vote once a day each day through May 15 for your favorite. Online voting results will account for 25 percent of each finalist’s total score.

There will also be a series of happy hour “meet-and-greet” events to give the public a chance to meet each semi-finalist. The first will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 21, at Park Place Mercedes Benz, 6113 Lemmon Ave. Other times and locations are listed on the website.

The big finale is set for May 19, 7:30 p.m. at Gables Park 17, 1700 Cedar Springs Road in Uptown. That’s when the five finalists will be announced and then participate in a live competition involving fashion, pop culture trivia, informational interviews and more. The winner will be chosen by a panel of community leaders.

—  admin

Coupe de grace

Mercedes makes 2-doors way sexier than 4 with its E550

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer crwauto@aol.com


’10 E550 COUPE

Mercedes-Benz. 381 hp,
5.5 liter V8. 15/23-MPG city/hwy. As-tested price: $61,475

………………………..

Since my grandmother bought her first one after my grandfather died 35 years ago, I have been a fan of Mercedes. Generation after generation, the cars are solidly-built, timelessly-styled and always at the top of their class. Grandma always purchased entry-level sedans: Two 280Es, a 190E and C220. She would drive them 170,000 miles and trade them off for the next generation — often without ever driving it. She just knew she would be pleased and was never disappointed.

Mercedes Benz E550
SPORTY COOL | The Mercedes Benz E550 offers the best of both worlds with nods to classic Mercedes builds and high tech interior features with a powerful engine that takes you from 0 to 60 in five seconds.

Mercedes coupes have always been more special than their sedans. I love the E Sedan as much as uninspiring professors probably liked the Ponton sedans in the ‘50s, but the more fabulous among us go for coupes: They’re sexy, but no less reliable, and will be the ones to covet decades from now. I still remember the new E-Coupe my doctor purchased in the late ‘80s. It looked great next to his red Mercedes 560SL!

Still sharing basic vehicle architecture with the C-Class, the latest E-Class Coupe takes a giant step upmarket in terms of styling and refinement. A more traditional Mercedes, the car feels as if a defiant Kim Jong Il couldn’t disturb it even if he went completely off the crazy train.

There are more traditional styling cues outside, but the design is wholly anchored in the next decade. A broad star-strewn grille shifts wind with twin lamellas running across, reaching to large headlamps with separate driving lamps between — a take from earlier Mercedes coupes with their large round headlamps and inset foglamps.

LED lamps in the lower facia step up to Audi’s challenge while AMG 18-in. alloy wheels could be on nothing other than a Mercedes. A tight arching roofline is ultra-sleek with the look of Mercedes’ CLS, but the accentuated rear fenders hearken back to the ‘50s. The E550 Coupe is a blend of Mercedes’ historic design cues, rendered in a new and fresh way.

If my doctor had to make a fast trip to the hospital (a continent away), the E550 would have been ready for the run. The car’s chiseled sloping hood shields a 5.5-liter 32-valve V8 engine that produces 382 horsepower and 391 lb.-ft. of torque. A standard 7-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel paddle shifters moves power to the rear wheels as smoothly as a tank trashing an ant. Step on the go pedal and the stout coupe scamps from 0–60 mph in about 5 seconds flat. Fuel economy is rated 15/23-MPG city/hwy.

INSIDE JOB | High tech options accent sleek lines.

Like the exterior, passenger space is a blend of tradition and contemporary elegance. You could step out of a 1975 Mercedes Coupe and be instantly familiar with the dash-mounted ignition switch, gated gear selector, left-dash light switch, and large center speedometer flanked by auxiliary gauges. Even the low turn stalk and upper left placement of the cruise control stick are exactly where your grandmother remembers them. Some may think these features are quaint and should be changed, but I have a healthy respect for tradition. So do Mercedes owners who really don’t care to have these things altered.

However, they are just fine with the onslaught of technology that invaded Mercedes cabins in recent years. Navigation, Bluetooth for phone connectivity, Sirius Satellite Radio, and heated/cooled leather seats keep owners art to the state. Radar cruise control maintains a set distance from vehicles in front on the highway. Technology or not, the brown dashtop is the perfect accent for hand-polished burl walnut on the dash, doors, and front and rear center consoles. What looks chrome, is. And, if it looks like timber, it could be ground to sawdust.

Mercedes’ renowned safety is accounted for in heaps. Of course, it has four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, brake force distribution, and cornering control. Dual front, side, and side curtain airbags are standard. Our test car came with PRE-SAFE, a system that uses a radar unit behind the grille emblem to detect an impending accident, alert the driver, and even apply brakes automatically if he does not react quickly enough. Attention Assist detects drowsiness in the driver’s behavior from sensors in the steering and brake systems, and then illuminates a little coffee cup in the instrument cluster to wake him up.

Driving the E550 Coupe is a delight. Nothing upsets the car’s continuously variable damping system suspension. A car that feels incredibly heavy and stable at high speed turns into a lithe sport coupe when tossed about. It can drive 1,000-mile days as happily as attacking two-lane mountain passes.

The E550 Coupe is a stunning automobile, sure to make a scene wherever it rolls. Stunningly modern, it would still be recognized as a Mercedes on any planet. My grandmother would like it, but my doctor would love it. Go for the equally-impressive cabriolet and he could kick both the E320 and SL560 to the Classic Center and not miss either one. Base prices start at $54,650, but our test car came to $61,475.

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BABY GOT BACK | The C30’s retro rear was a selling point for Cooper. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Drivers seat

Name: Jon Cooper.

Occupation: Store operations support for Zales and part-time historical studies major at UTD.

Car: Volvo C30 T5.

Isn’t that the Twilight movie car? Are you Team Edward or Team Jacob? If someone mentions that movie one more time, I’m gouging their eyes out. Unless he’s hot.

The official color of your car is: Titanium grey metallic.

How long have you owned this car? A year and a half.

What was your last car? Ford Explorer Sport.

So why this one? After years of settling I finally decided to hell with it, I’m getting something nice!

It’s sporty — does it get good gas mileage? Not bad, 28 mpg combined.

Are you a faster driver now? Some have accused me of driving like a grandma, but the turbo is definitely turning me into a lead foot.

Best car memory: The first “Oh crap!” during a rain storm when all the safety features kicked in.

What’s playing in your music player? My iPod shuffles a mix from Keith Urban to Franz Ferdinand to Colton Ford with the occasional show tune.

What kind of maintenance do you do on your own? On this car? I ain’t touching anything!

What are the rules of your car? Be gentle and don’t screw with my seat settings.

How do you rate this car to previous ones? Considering my first car was a 1976 AMC Pacer, it’s definitely a step up.

This is a higher class car for you. Are you a power gay now? Definitely not.  An easy gay?  Yes.

Funniest road trip story? I did take it on a camping trip last spring.  I got a few raised eyebrows and head shakes from the hardcore SUV crowd.

What makes it sexy? Leather, baby!  Leath-uh!

Do the seats recline all the way for those special dates? Special what?

Where is one place you’d like to really drive your car? To my graduation ceremony next spring.

Would you put a Pride sticker on it? The only intelligent quote from The Real Housewives of New Jersey: “Would you put a bumper sticker on a Bentley?”  Maybe a Texas-shaped rainbow sticker on the license plate.

Foreign v. domestic? What are we talking about — guys or cars?

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens